Tam Dalyell

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Sir Tam Dalyell
Father of the House
In office
7 June 2001 – 5 May 2005
Preceded by Sir Edward Heath
Succeeded by Alan Williams
Member of Parliament
for Linlithgow
In office
10 June 1983 – 11 April 2005
Preceded by Constituency created
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for West Lothian
In office
14 June 1962 – 9 June 1983
Preceded by John Taylor
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born Thomas Dalyell Loch
(1932-08-09) 9 August 1932 (age 86)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Kathleen Wheatley
Residence House of the Binns
Alma mater Eton College
King's College, Cambridge

Sir Thomas Dalyell of the Binns, 11th Baronet (born 9 August 1932), known as Tam Dalyell, is a Scottish Labour Party politician who was a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1962 to 2005. He represented West Lothian from 1962 to 1983, then Linlithgow from 1983 to 2005. He is particularly well known for his formulation of what came to be known as the "West Lothian question", on whether non-English MPs should be able to vote upon English-only matters after political devolution.

Early life and career

Dalyell was born in Edinburgh,[1] and raised in his mother Nora Dalyell's family home, the Binns, near Linlithgow, West Lothian; his father (Percy) Gordon Loch, C.I.E., was a colonial civil servant and a scion of the Loch family. His father took his wife's maiden name in 1938, and through his mother he inherited the baronetcy of Dalyell, although he never uses the title.

Dalyell was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Eton College after a short period in the Prep Department of St George's School, Edinburgh.[2][3] He did his National Service with the Royal Scots Greys from 1950 to 1952, as an ordinary trooper, after failing his officer training. He then went to King's College, Cambridge to study mathematics, but switched to history. He became Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association and Vice-President of the Cambridge Union Society.[4]:63 Joan Robinson encouraged him to stay for a year after completing his history degree to take an additional degree in economics, which he did and later described as "the hardest work I ever did, much harder than being a PPS".[5] He then trained as a teacher at Moray House College in Edinburgh and taught at Bo'ness Academy and a ship school.

In 1969 Dalyell became a columnist for New Scientist magazine,[6] contributing Westminster scene (later Westminster diary) until his retirement in 2005. This provided "a conduit for researchers to speak to Parliament and vice versa", covering many subjects of public concern including industrial diseases, data protection, chemical weapons and the environment.[7]

Political career

Having been educated by left-wing economists at Cambridge, Dalyell says that he became a socialist because of the level of unemployment in Scotland.[5] His decision to join the Labour Party in 1956 was triggered by the Suez Crisis. After being unsuccessful as parliamentary candidate for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in 1959, he became a Member of Parliament in June 1962, when he defeated William Wolfe of the Scottish National Party in a hard fought by-election for West Lothian. From 1983 onwards, he represented Linlithgow (when the New Town of Livingston formed its own constituency) and easily retained his position as their representative. He became Father of the House after the 2001 General Election, when Sir Edward Heath retired. He was a Member of the European Parliament from 1975 to 1979, and a member of the Labour National Executive from 1986 to 1987 representing the Campaign group.

Dalyell's independent stance in Parliament ensured his isolation from significant committees and jobs. His early career was promising and he became Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Richard Crossman. He annoyed a number of ministers and was heavily censured by the Privileges Committee for a leak about the biological weapons research establishment, Porton Down,[8] to the newspapers (though he said that he thought the draft minutes of the Select Committee on Science and Technology were in the public domain).[4]:110–112 When Labour failed to hold power in 1970, his chances of senior office were effectively over. He was opposed to Scottish devolution and was the first to pose the famous "West Lothian question", although it was given its name by Enoch Powell. He continued to argue his own causes: in 1978 to 1979 he voted against his own government over 100 times, despite a three-line whip.[8]

In the 1990s, Dalyell asked the Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, to grant diplomatic immunity to Lester Coleman, a coauthor of Trail of the Octopus, so that he could give evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial in Scotland; the Federal Government of the United States had indictments against Coleman, accusing him of passport fraud and perjury. Allan Stewart, a former Office Minister of Scotland and a Conservative Party MP for Eastwood, also said that Coleman should be granted immunity so he could testify in Scotland. The Lord Advocate rejected Dalyell's plea, saying that the Home Office and the English courts had jurisdiction over the demand of the US government's extradition demand regarding Coleman, and that the Crown Office and the Scottish Office had no authority over the case.[9] Dalyell later said, "I had contact with Les Coleman 10 years ago. In my opinion, though he has a chequered history, I take him seriously."[10]

Dalyell is vocal in his disapproval of imperialism. Beginning with his opposition to action in Borneo in 1965, he has contested almost every British action, arguing against action in Aden, the depopulation of Diego Garcia, the Falklands War (especially the sinking of the General Belgrano), the Gulf War and action in Kosovo and Iraq, and saying, "I will resist a war with every sinew in my body". When invited by a television journalist to rank Tony Blair among the eight prime ministers he had observed as a parliamentarian, he cited policy over Kosovo and Iraq as reasons for placing his party leader at the bottom of the list. He was also a strong presence in Parliament concerning Libya and led no fewer than 17 adjournment debates on the Lockerbie bombing,[11][12] in which he repeatedly demanded answers by the Government to the reports of Hans Köchler, United Nations observer at the Lockerbie trial.[13]

Following his outspoken opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and criticism of the Government, Downing Street suggested that he might face withdrawal of the Labour whip. Dalyell stated in an interview with the American magazine Vanity Fair that Prime Minister Tony Blair was unduly influenced by a "cabal of Jewish advisers". He specifically named Lord Levy, who was Blair's official representative in the Middle East, and Labour politicians Peter Mandelson (whose father was Jewish) and Jack Straw (whose great-grandfather was Jewish). Mandelson said that "apart from the fact that I am not actually Jewish, I wear my father's parentage with pride".[14] Dalyell denied accusations that the remarks were anti-Semitic.[15][16][17] In March 2003, regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Dalyell accused the then Prime Minister Tony Blair of being a war criminal. He stated that "since Mr Blair is going ahead with his support for a US attack without unambiguous UN authorisation, he should be branded as a war criminal and sent to The Hague".[18]

On 7 March 2003, Dalyell was elected Rector of the University of Edinburgh. He was succeeded in 2006 by Mark Ballard. It was announced on 13 January 2004 that he would stand down from Parliament at the next election, and he left the House of Commons in April 2005 after 43 years as a member of the Commons. He had been Scotland's longest-serving MP since the resignation of Bruce Millan in 1988. He was succeeded as Father of the House by Alan Williams. On 16 May 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that Dalyell had claimed £18,000 for three bookcases months before his retirement from the House of Commons.[19] Dalyell claimed that this was a legitimate expense to which he was entitled;[20] the House of Commons' Fees Office released £7,800.

Personal life

He married Kathleen Wheatley, a teacher, on 26 December 1963; she was the elder daughter of the late Baron Wheatley, one-time Lord Advocate and Labour MP for East Edinburgh.[21] They have a son Tom Wheatley Dalyell,[22] and one daughter, both of whom are lawyers. He is a 6th cousin of Harry S. Truman through the daughter of the 1st Baronet Dalyell of the Binns. In his retirement, and for some years previously, he has contributed obituaries to The Independent. In 2011 he published his autobiography, The Importance of Being Awkward. The dedication is "To the men and women of West Lothian – Labour, SNP, Conservative, Liberal, Communist – who, whatever their political opinions, were kind to me in all sorts of ways over 43 years as their representative in the House of Commons."


  • The Case of Ship-Schools, 1960
  • Ship-School Dunera, 1963
  • Devolution: The End of Britain?, 1977
  • One Man's Falklands, 1982
  • A Science Policy for Britain, 1983
  • Thatcher's Torpedo, 1983
  • Misrule, 1987
  • Dick Crossman: A Portrait, 1989
  • The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell, 2011, ISBN 9780857900753

See also


  1. Loch, Percy Gordon (1934) The Family Loch, Privately Printed P202
  2. "Old Girls Association".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:lOksCcb1hHEJ:www.st-georges.edin.sch.uk/news%3Fpage%3D99+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tam Dalyell (2011). The Importance of Being Awkward: The Autobiography of Tam Dalyell. Birlinn. ISBN 9780857900753. Retrieved 25 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Andrew Brown (13 April 2002). "Heckling for Britain". Guardian online.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Tam Dalyell (May 21, 2005). "The end of an era at New Scientist". New Scientist (2500).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Editorial: Columnist Tam Dalyell retires". New Scientist (2500). May 21, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Profile: Tam Dalyell". BBC News: Tam Dalyell profile, 13 January 2004. Retrieved 31 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Tinning, William. "Immunity ruled out in Lockerbie row. Plea to Lord Advocate fails over former US intelligence agent." The Herald. 4 August 1995. Retrieved on 11 October 2010.
  10. McDougall, Liam. "Ex-CIA agents claim they were smeared to cover-up the truth COVER- UP: ESPIONAGE CONNECTION Former intelligence staff head to court to argue their reputations were destroyed by the CIA after they became whistleblowers over the bombing of PanAm 103." The Sunday Herald. 7 May 2006. News Start Page 12. Retrieved on 10 October 2010.
  11. "Lockerbie".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Lockerbie". They Work For You website 19 January 2005. Retrieved 31 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 1 May 2002 (pt 3)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Fury as Dalyell attacks Blair's 'Jewish cabal'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 4 May 2003. Archived from the original on 15 November 2007. Retrieved 13 April 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Nicholas Watt "Dalyell may face race hatred inquiry", The Guardian, 5 May 2003
  16. "Dalyell's 'Jewish cabal' remarks denied", BBC News, 4 May 2003
  17. Michael White "Dalyell steps up attack on Levy", The Guardian, 6 May 2003
  18. Tam Dalyell "Blair, the war criminal", The Guardian, 27 March 2003
  19. BBC News "Labour MP faces mortgage claims" retrieved 16 May 2009
  20. "MP 'relaxed' about bookcase claim". BBC News. 16 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Profile: Tam Dalyell". Mail Online.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Current Nova Scotia Baronetcies".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Taylor
Member of Parliament for West Lothian
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Linlithgow
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Edward Heath
Father of the House
Succeeded by
Alan Williams
Academic offices
Preceded by
Robin Harper
Rector of the University of Edinburgh
Succeeded by
Mark Ballard
Baronetage of Nova Scotia
Preceded by
Nora Dalyell
(of Binns)